Saturday, June 5, 2010

Revolver Restaurant: A Benefit for Sister Rita and the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center

For me a good meal is like a good mix tape. There's a wide range of different styles with a calculated pace and subtle threads create connections and an umbrella of thoughtful themes.

The benefit for Sister Rita and the Franciscan Earth Literacy at Revolver this week reminded me of a perfect mix tape. The kind you listen to so much the tape becomes worn and warped with each re-play.

In a sense, though, the event was a culinary mix tape. Revolver's Chef Bulkowski brought in four talented chefs from around the country: Top Chef cheftestant Valerie Bolon from Chicago; Andrew Maykuth, executive chef at The Admiral in Asheville, North Carolina; James Lohse, executive chef at The Watermark in Nashville; and Pastry Chef Erin Mooney from BLT Steak in Atlanta.

And each chef brought with him/her their styles and music selection.

Yes, in the tradition of Revolver, the music of the evening set the tone for the menu. And the music became an actual mix tape. Chef Bulkowski chose Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Chef Bolon selected Gomez. To pair with his Halibut, Chef Maykuth picked The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack, and Chef Mooney and Chef Lohse requested Roky Erickson and the Avett Brothers.

As a music lover, I derive much joy from obsessing about the connections between the dishes and music pairings. And as food lover, I delight in obsessing about flavor combinations and wine pairings.

In other words, during this event I was in heaven.

For the first time we choose to eat during the late service (8:30) because we wanted to end the night listening to Revolver co-owner Debi Bulkowski's band, and we wanted an opportunity to chat with the chefs and friends.

What I loved about the late service was I didn't feel alone in my food obsession. After each course was served I could hear the click of camera shutters before the restaurant came alive with flavor dissections and discussions. It was intoxicating to feel part of a culinary community rather than a lone foodie in a room of here-to-be-seen-ers.

Later this week my review of the food will be published in the BG News, so I'm saving the in-depth commentary on each dish for that venue. However, as I obsess about the meal and re-play it again and again in my head, I'm realizing more about it.

(Trust me, with a wine pairing for each dish, it's hard to remember everything. Unless you take notes. Which I did do. Thank God.)

The amuse-bouche: Chef Lohse's creation. English peas with serrano ham puree and lemon confit. Gorgeous and fresh. The initial crunch made the first bite of the meal so special. And when the puree hit, I started doing my orgasmic eye-roll. Pure awesomeness.

1st course: Chicken consomme with goat cheese ravioli, chicken meatballs, fava beans, and chanterelle mushrooms. For me the fava beans with the little itty-bitty mushrooms were the stars. And I fought--hard--not to tip my bowl and slurp down those last few sips.

2nd course: Wild Alaskan halibut with vidalia onion, anson mills farro piccolo, maitake mushrooms, English peas and benton's bacon. I've heard parents say again and again "I love all my kids equally." If anyone were to ask me, I felt that way about this meal; I loved all the dishes equally. That's the diplomatic answer, right? What parents don't want to confess is that they always have a favorite. Always. And I had a favorite course of this meal. It was Chef Maykuth's halibut. This surprises me because I wanted it to be the consomme or the pork belly or the venison. But no it was the halibut. The first hint that this dish was going to be my favorite was when I saw the night's playlist. I knew Chef Maykuth had to have picked the Life Aquatic soundtrack to go with the halibut. Why pick something so dedicated to the sea unless you were cooking fish? Immediately, I found that funny. And I'm a HUGE Wes Anderson fan. To the point I bought three copies of Wes Anderson's brother's book Chuck Dugan is AWOL. One copy to read, one copy to give as a gift, and one copy to cut pictures out with an exacto knife so I could frame and hang them in my office so I could feel like a Tenenbaum. While I wasn't exactly aware of it intentionally or in that moment, I guess I must have known that the halibut would be quirky, playful, and complex--just like a Wes Anderson film. So when Rachel poured the Anne Amie Pinot Blanco, which was provided by Adam Mahler at Ampelography Wines, with its killer notes of cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg, I had a feeling I would love the halibut. And when Chef Bulkowski let me in the kitchen to take pics of the halibut being plated, I think that was yet another hint. But when I sat down, set down the camera, and picked up the fork, I never imagined how much the dish would affect me. I'm a loud person. I'm dramatic. I love to exclaim my feelings. After my first bite, I was still. I sipped the wine. Then I wrote in my notebook. "Halibut: Fucking amazing. Flavor explodes with the wine. Fuck." I didn't say a word to FD or anyone. I stayed in a moment of personal zen, that space that only happens to me during yoga class. I felt divine. I felt like a Tenenbaum. How Chef Maykuth took ingredients that remind me of beef stew and made a perfect spring dish with halibut, I will never know. I'm a writer, not a chef. But I will spend my life thinking about it. In short, never believe a parent (or foodie) who says they don't have a favorite; they are lying.

3rd course: Local citrus braised pork belly with radish puree and smoked pak choi. I told FD that Chef Lohse's dish made me feel like I was at home. It was soulful, comforting, and rich. It truly melted in my mouth. What I loved during this course was the woman who sat behind me kept repeating over and over, "This is so special." I had a moment where I wanted to turn around and hug her. I restrained myself. But it made me joyful to hear someone who "got it."

4th course: Maple glazed broken arrow ranch axis venison with apple-beet-potato gratin and asparagus-fennel salad. Chef Bolon managed to get almost all of my favorite vegetables and fruit on one plate. If only kale had been there. The textures in this dish were spot on. The crunch of the asparagus with the velvety venison blew my mind. And the sharp cheese topping on the gratin did a lovely job of cutting the sweetness of the apples and beets.

5th course: Red Wine soaked strawberries with honey-almond tuiles. What I love about dessert courses is that they are their own entity. There's no competition when it comes to dessert. How could there be? Both of Chef Mooney's desserts slayed me through and through. The strawberries were those little perfect hearts that are only in season right now. Imagine how sweet and tart and juicy they were. Such a perfect transition between dinner and dessert. I saw them as that song on a mix tape gets you ready for a change in pace. Absolutely perfect. I wasn't crazy about wine pairing with this dish; it was a rose that didn't compliment the berries as much as I hoped it would have. But that's the challenge of cooking, right? You take a risk and sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. In my eyes it was a small hiccup, one that I feel I need to mention in order to show readers I'm not completely biased and just bragging about all the great food I had.

6th: Soft chocolate with tres leches cake and mole crunch. I've never had pure chocolate until I tasted this dish. Come to think of it, this dish was pure. Pure in heart and soul and love. Quite frankly, dear reader, if I could I would find some way to shoot it up, every day. But then again I wouldn't be able to taste it, and that's what made it so much fun. It was hot, salty, rich, smooth, sweet. Ugh, I wish I could be eating it right now. Literally right now. And what made it even better was listening to Debi Bulkowski sing "House of the Rising Sun" while I ate it. Talk about sexy and sultry. Two more adjectives that describe Chef Mooney's dish and the amazing Debi!

To say that FD and I had a great time is the understatement of 2010. We cherished this meal, the music and the company. Yet again Revolver delivered--on so many levels.

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